- Revised Common Lectionary Readings
- Worship Planning Notes
- Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship
Baptismal font from Bethlehemskirken, Copenhagen, Denmark. Notice the image of the wise men and the star to the left, the angel to the right, King David playing the harp in the center, and the icon conflating the birth (manger), baptism (water) and resurrection (coming up) of Jesus positioned above. This reflects the time when Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord were celebrated on January 6. Placing images of the wise men on stone baptismal fonts was commonplace in the West for this reason. Public domain.
Revised Common Lectionary Readings
Leccionario en Español, Leccionario Común Revisado: Consulta Sobre Textos Comunes.
Lectionnaire en français, Le Lectionnaire Œcuménique Révisé
Lecionário em português, Lecionário comum revisado
Isaiah 60:1-6 Isaiah prophesies to a people just returning from exile that the day would come when all nations would “stream to their light.”
Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 (UMH 795) In praise of the righteous king who would receive tribute from all nations – Sing using Response 1.
Ephesians 3:1-12 Paul’s imprisonments make it possible for Gentiles, including leaders of the Roman Empire, to know the mystery that they, too, are invited to become fellow heirs with Christ Jesus.
Matthew 2:1-12 Magi from Iraq arrive to offer homage to a new king in Judea and participate in God's subversion of Herod's plan.
Worship Planning Notes
The Day of Epiphany, like the Day of Pentecost, marks the end of a major cycle of the Church Year. For Pentecost, it is the Lent-Easter Season cycle. Epiphany marks the culmination of the Advent-Christmas Season cycle.
So we complete, today, the season of celebrating and contemplating the mystery of the incarnation and all God becoming flesh has set loose in the world.
Starting next week, we shift into a season of ministry and calling to discipleship. We spend these weeks of Ordinary Time after Epiphany on two major missional tasks: calling people to discipleship and getting the church ready for its work of preparing people for a life of discipleship throughout the Season of Lent. The Scriptures for the season after Epiphany are chosen to support congregations in fulfilling these two significant tasks.
The Scriptures during the Season after Epiphany are prepared in two distinct tracks. The Old Testament reading is chosen to correspond with the Gospel reading, which is semi-continuous from the early ministry of Jesus as reported by Luke. The Epistle reading is a separate track, not intended to coordinate with the OT/Gospel selection. This gives you a choice of two distinct approaches to take as you plan worship and other formation activities during the season. Generally, the OT/Gospel track will help you focus on calling people to discipleship. The Epistle track during the “green Sundays” covers I Corinthians 12 and 13. This will help you focus on getting your gifts and priorities in order to prepare candidates for baptism, confirmation, or restoration during Lent. You might choose one track as a focus for worship, and the other as a focus for formational groups through these weeks.
For more about the Season after Epiphany, and particularly the OT/Gospel track, see Planning for the Season after Epiphany, 2016.
As the seasons shift after today, so do the colors. Today, the colors remain white and gold for Christmas. Starting January 7, the color changes to green for the weekday, and for most Sundays of the Season after Epiphany. We’ll have white and gold again next Sunday (Baptism of the Lord) and Transfiguration of the Lord (February 7), but all the other days and weekdays are green. For a light-hearted look at how these cycles work, as well as the colors within them, see the first video in the “Chuck Knows Church” series.
We number the Sundays during Ordinary Time as X Sundays after Epiphany Pentecost. It’s called “Ordinary Time” because we use “ordinal numbers” (first, second, third, etc) to identify the Sundays. So next Sunday is the First Sunday after Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord. In three weeks, we’ll have the Third Sunday after Epiphany.
Early celebrations of Epiphany incorporated both the stories of the Magi and the baptism of the Lord, and it was a major day for baptizing in its own right. This is why so many older baptismal fonts, such as the one pictured above, include images of the magi. Over time in the West (but not in the Orthodox churches), the two emphases became separated into two separate days. In essence, they are still two sides of the same basic celebration of the public revealing of Jesus as the Son of God. As you plan for worship today, do so with next week’s celebration of the baptism of Jesus in mind.
Resources for Planning Upcoming Seasons
The Season after Epiphany (introductory article from the Book of Worship)
Getting Ready to Get Ready: Planning for the Season after Epiphany 2016
Resources for the Season after Epiphany
Planning Lent and Easter as Seasons for Discipling 2016 (Webinar with links to handouts)
Resources for Lent
Resources for Holy Week
Resources for Easter Season
Upcoming Sundays and Special Days
January 3/6 Epiphany Sunday/Epiphany
January 10 Baptism of the Lord
January 11 Human Trafficking Awareness Day
January 17 Human Relations Day (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
January 18 Martin Luther King Jr. Day
January 18-25 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
January 24 Ecumenical Sunday
All Month Black History Month
February 7 Transfiguration of the Lord
February 10 Ash Wednesday, and Lent Begins
February 14 Scouting Ministries Sunday (or observe after Lent)
February 15 Presidents Day (USA)
All Month Women’s History Month
March 4 World Day of Prayer / (Discipleship Ministries Resources)
March 6 One Great Hour of Sharing (with Offering)
March 13 Daylight Saving Time Begins (Time Change Song)
March 20 Passion/Palm Sunday
March 20-26 Holy Week
March 24 Maundy Thursday
March 25 Good Friday
March 26 Holy Saturday (morning) Great Vigil (after sunset); Brief Version
March 27 Easter Sunday
Scouting Ministries Sunday is February 14, which is also the First Sunday in Lent on the Christian calendar. United Methodist denominational scouting leaders prefer that both Boy and Girl Scouts, as well as other scouting groups, be recognized on a day that does not interfere with Lent. Girl Scout Sunday is an alternate scouting Sunday on March 13, the fifth Sunday in Lent. Since both fall in Lent this year, you may wish to observe a Scouting Sunday at a different time, either during Ordinary Time (before Transfiguration) or during Easter Season (after Easter Day, before Pentecost). A Litany on the Scout/Guide Promise is also available.
English doesn’t really have its own word that quite says what the Greek word “ἐπif£neia” captures. Perhaps that’s why rather than translate it, English simply took it over wholesale, much as French (despite its resistant stand to such foreign incursions into its speech) has taken on “le leadership,” and Japanese has created a whole alphabet for non-Japanese words it uses regularly.
Epiphany! It’s a word that merits an exclamation point in English. It’s always something surprising, unexpected, exciting, even startling. “Latinizing” it into “manifestation” kind of kills the sense of it. To translate it as “appearance” misses the adjectives we need to add to make it anywhere close. Think Emeril. Think of him saying, “Bam!” Or think Captain Marvel, and his phrase “Shazam!”
We don’t have any single word for this in English, but the borrowed one, “Epiphany!” Maybe about the briefest equivalent we might have is something like, “Sudden, surprising happening that changes everything completely.”
The prophet to people standing in ruins: “Arise, shine for your light has come! The glory of the Lord is risen upon you!” Epiphany!
The apostle Paul, writing from prison: “In chains I can perform my mission to make the mystery of salvation known to the very top leadership of the Roman Empire!” Epiphany!
Pagan astrologer descendents of the people who dragged Judeans into exile are led to Judea to pay homage to a baby destined to become its king. Epiphany! They keep following the star until it stops shining, thereby learning which child to honor. Epiphany! Then through dreams (Epiphany!), they are shown the way to undercut the plots of Herod, the most powerful and most ruthless governor/king the region had ever known. Epiphany!
Epiphany! in Isaiah
Isaiah offers a word from the Lord to exiles or new returnees to their homeland after at least a 39 year absence. They knew to expect ruins on their return, and that is what they found. Thick darkness (verse 2) would have been an apt description of their ruined homeland and their destroyed capitol, Jerusalem.
Against this backdrop, the prophet declares the coming of the glory of the Lord, ready to shine on the land of Judah while the rest of the nations were covered in thick darkness (verses 1-2).
This prophecy was partly fulfilled in those times. Not long after issuing the decree to set the Judeans free to return to their homeland, the new Persian government also sent orders to have supplies and building materials sent to rebuild and furnish the city and its temple. Among those materials were gold and frankincense (Isaiah 60:6). Part of what Isaiah’s word may have accomplished in its day, then, was to remind the returned exiles that if they were paying attention they would in fact see other nations bringing camels, gold, and frankincense into Jerusalem, as well as more and more of their relatives returning to the homeland (verses 4-6). This was nothing less than God’s glory shining on them as they began to rebuild. It was Epiphany! before their eyes, if they had eyes to see it.
It is not hubris, but an act of faith (if we will live in faith!) to say that God calls through this prophecy to stir from our own depression as church, to live in the way of Jesus, and in so doing to find that he, and we through him, are exactly as he said: the light of the world. Our mutual care for one another and extended to all, our commitment and action that renounces the evil forces of this world and resists injustice and oppression, our praise of God in the midst of suffering and uncertainty, our witness through lives of holiness to the holiness of God, all of these are signs of God’s glory shining, if we will see the Epiphany! all around us, and if we will let it shine through us.
So who and what around you is shining with the Epiphany! light of God’s glory in the midst of the thick darkness surrounding us? If you don’t already have some of these “shining ones” on your worship planning team, invite one or two in for your planning for this service. Let their light become contagious among you, and then spread abroad in your celebration this day.
Epiphany! in Ephesians
Paul can’t stop talking about Jesus, even in prison. And when he talks about Jesus, it’s Epiphany! -- at least for some of his hearers, even some of those who locked him away for it! In Philippians (1:12-14) Paul talks about how Epiphany! happened this way for the whole imperial guard in Rome, who in turn shared at least something of that message with the leadership of the empire. Paul refers to that when he writes to the Christians around Ephesus about when “the mystery of the gospel now being made known to rulers and authorities in heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:11).
The bottom line: Christ simply is Epiphany! to all, and the good news about him will go out from all who are committed to him and to all the world, including the Gentiles.
To us this may sound obvious. Most of the Christians in the world are, and for many centuries have been, Gentiles.
Hear the Epiphany! of this in Paul’s day, though, both to Jews and to Gentiles. To the Gentiles, here’s an imprisoned Jew passionately telling them about a Jewish messiah who is out to save them, too. To the Jews, convinced they were God’s only chosen, this startling news that in Jesus God was making one new community out of a fractured two. The Jewish-Gentile Christian community in Ephesus was actually Epiphany! of that reality.
The fracturing of Christian communities brought about since the time of the Protestant Reformation has often tended to reinforce rather than break down divisions. In our fractured state, we continue to think we are making progress if we are getting a few more “folks like us” – or folks from other cultures we can convince and teach to become like us-- to join us in worship and other good deeds. Does either of these tactics—gathering folks like us together or trying to make others be more like us—represent the fullness of the mystery of God breaking down all dividing walls in Christ? Is that an Epiphany! life? Or is that just “life as usual” in a segregated world?
Are there experiences of imprisonment or other suffering where you are that have enabled the gospel of Jesus to be shared with people whom you, in your usual “niched Protestant Gentileness,” might not otherwise share it? How might some of those opportunities be lifted up in worship today?
Epiphany! in Matthew
The usual pageantry for Matthew’s gospel this Sunday includes the three kings, their gifts, and perhaps the use of incense. There is something comforting about repeating the usual elements, even when the materials we may use to do so are bathrobes and other commonplace items we may have available. That comfort and familiarity, even some of the domestication that comes with it, can be a blessing.
But this is Epiphany! And this story is anything but comforting. It is instead subversive to the core, in an Epiphany! kind of way.
Iraqi or Iranian astrologers just didn’t normally come striding into Jerusalem looking for a newborn child destined to become the new ruler of that nation. If they did, they would have known enough protocol from their own culture that they wouldn’t normally start by asking common people and maybe a priest or two where this child might be. Matters of state like this would usually have been handled by an official delegation working through all the “right” channels. In short, what these men were doing in Jerusalem and how they did it was bound—and maybe even intended-- to draw suspicion from the powers that be. Epiphany!
What are you doing as a congregation or as individuals, or what are others in your community doing, that draws suspicion by talking with “the wrong people”? Where are you taking action to find Jesus at work in ways that avoid or help you move around the barriers in place to keep you from finding him?
What we know of Herod we know primarily from a historian (Josephus) who did not like him, as well as from this testimony in Matthew. Herod was, by their testimony, insecure, paranoid, easily threatened, and ready to act violently if he thought someone might be in his way.
But in Matthew’s story, our Christian story, Herod is not just a maniacal historical figure. He is also stand-in for the powers of the world. These powers keep others from accessing truth they do not want to be accessed, and then try to control the outcome of any truth discovered.
The Magi are free agents initially drawn into Herod’s scheme as pawns. The angels in dreams send them home by another way, and in the verses following send the Holy Family into exile in Egypt, also as free agents. Herod lashes out with extreme violence, ordering the execution of every Jewish male under age two unless he may have missed someone.
God’s consistent activity in this story was Epiphany! God acted in surprising, transforming ways to subvert the powers that be and all they would attempt to stop God’s reign from being made known (Epiphany!) through Jesus. In nature, God arranged the alignment of planets viewed by the astrologers. Through the astrologers going to Jerusalem, the wrong people are asked and Herod’s suspicions are raised. Through Herod, the Magi discover where they need to go to find the king they seek. Through a series of dreams, God leads the astrologers and the Holy Family to safety in the face of what were very serious death threats from Herod. It is subversion after subversion, God never once using the “right channels” to spread the word of the newborn king and God’s kingdom coming to all the world. Not once. God always acted by Epiphany!
How do people in your congregation or community join God’s subversion of the powers that be to bring about the revelation of God’s reign to strangers and enemies? How does God continue to act subversively where you are to continue to secure place for God’s reign not only to survive but to thrive where you are?
Note that the Ecumenical Prayer Cycle for today calls all Christians around the world to pray for the people of Syria today. Be sure to do so, and keep doing so through these troubled times.
In Your Planning Team
The Culmination of Christmas Season
Christmas Season ends in worship today. The Season after Epiphany begins next Sunday.
So remember two words, worship planners: wrap-up and segue.
Today is the wrap-up of your Christmas Season series. Be sure to take time to revisit where this series has taken you, and celebrate the conclusion of that series today—with a bang!
Today is also when you need to make your strongest segue into your series for the Season after Epiphany. So be sure to preview the journey you’ll be taking through the next five weeks, and build excitement for it starting in this service, and not just in the closing announcements or video loop. Be sure to include indications of what will happen in worship and what emphases formational groups will take so folks understand it’s not just about worship, but also how the focus of the coming season will be lived out in other ministries of the church.
The gospel is the intended focus of all of today’s readings. Plan to preach primarily on the gospel, and draw the other stories in as illustrations as may be appropriate.
The heart of the gospel is Epiphany! as God’s surprising subversion of the powers that be, as well as God’s illumination of new ways that bring light and life and hope against a background of danger, death and despair.
While the gospel story is the focus, if we take the story from Isaiah seriously, we know to be looking for signs of Epiphany! happening right where we are, even or especially if where we are seems gloomy. And if we take Ephesians seriously, we’ll also be asking about signs of God’s Epiphany! in the form of Christian community that transcends “standard” binaries.
So plan to incorporate through visuals, audio, or live testimony witness of Epiphany! happening within your congregation, in your wider community, and in the world. Be sure this includes the elements highlighted in the Scriptures: subversion, talking with the wrong people rather than just working through the “right” channels, light shining in what to others appear to be merely gloomy places, and signs of collaboration and real community happening across every division present around you.
Epiphany! was not a “once and done” moment with a star, a ruler, some astrologers, and a young child in a town in Judea.
Epiphany! is the ongoing outpouring of effects of God becoming flesh and dwelling among us, then, now, and into the age to come.
So remember the past, celebrate the present, and jubilate around the Lord’s Table in anticipation of what Epiphany! will ultimately bring to pass.
Resources in The United Methodist Book of Worship (BOW) with links and other suggestions
Greeting: 296 (Epiphany)
Greeting: BOW 296
Opening Prayer: 297 (New Year, Holy Name, Epiphany), or UMH 255 (Epiphany)
Canticle/Act of Praise following the opening prayer: UMH 82, "Canticle of God's Glory" (Luke)
WORD AND RESPONSE:
Lighting the Christ Candle: If you have been lighting candles during Advent, consider lighting the Christ candle on this Sunday as we close the twelve days of Christmas. See "Lighting the Christ Candle on Christmas Eve or on Epiphany." The candle lighting could also take place just before or following the first reading.
Concerns and Prayers: BOW 279, BOW 495
Ecumenical Prayer Cycle: Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories
For other forms of Prayers of the People, see The Book of Common Prayer, pages 383-393
THANKSGIVING AND COMMUNION
The Great Thanksgiving: "New Year, Epiphany, Baptism of the Lord or Covenant Reaffirmation," 58-59 (New Year, Epiphany) BOW 58-59
Prayer of Thanksgiving if there is no Communion: BOW 551 (New Year, Covenant, Holy Name, Epiphany)
Dismissal with Blessing: BOW 265 (from the Advent Service of Lessons and Carols). A deacon or assisting minister/layperson may dismiss the people using the first section and the pastor speak the blessing beginning with "And the blessing of God Almighty..."